The Auditor General's Report has raised a number of questions about how the Growing Forward Program, and its $30 million mandate, has been managed.The program is a joint venture by the provincial and federal governments, but is administered in Corner Brook. Its mandate is to distribute grants to eligible agricultural research and development projects in Newfoundland and Labrador. A review of the project outlined several instances where the applicants who did not meet the requirements were still given funding, payments being made without proper documentation and a lack of oversight and followup of funded projects.
As of March 31, 2011, Growing Forward has approved funding for 360 projects at a cost of about half the fund, or $15 million.
Growing Forward has a five-year mandate that ends in March 2013. Applicants are eligible for single non-repayable contributions of up to $500,000, depending on demand for programs and funding availability.
In his examination of the program, acting auditor general Wayne Loveys looked at a sampling of the hundreds of approved projects - 27 approved for producers, processors and associations, three programs that were administered by the department and five projects that were rejected for funding.
Some of the issues outlined in the report are:
When the acting AG looked at the 30 projects that were approved for funding, he found an instance where three related organizations were all given funding, totalling $1.3 million. But the program guidelines state that each company is only entitled to one grant of no more than $500,000.
"In our opinion these three entities were related and the related party policy should have been considered," said the report.
The review also found that, of the 27 private companies in the sampling that received funding, three did not actually meet the requirements to be eligible.
Five of the 27 companies had information missing from their applications.
The review indicated there was a lack of overview on how each project was approved.
Technically, the program requires approved companies to meet certain requirements before all of the funding is released, but that did not take place in three of the sampled projects.
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Twenty-three of the projects required no followup once they were completed. Loveys found that 15 of those could have provided valuable information if they had been required to submit some kind of final report or had been followed up with.
"In our opinion, these reports would provide valuable information to the department and industry on whether the project objectives were successfully met, and this information could also be used in future assessment of projects with similar objectives or equipment needs," said the report.
In its response, the Department of Natural Resources stated that in its assessment, the Growing Forward Program has been administered appropriately and within its mandate.
"It is the department's opinion that this program is being delivered within a responsible context while exercising due diligence in the administration of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Bilateral Growing Forward Agreement," said the statement.
However, the department also acknowledged the acting auditor general's findings and suggested that several of his recommendations for improving oversight, followup and several other areas would be acted upon.